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The Rickshawpuller
by Debayan Majumdar

Ramu, the rickshawpuller, was a young boy who belonged to a very poor background and had spent most of his days in chill penury. He was barely sixteen years of age and had spent a couple of years pulling a rickshaw, beating all odds from dawn to dusk in the lonely outskirts of Beherampur in West Bengal. Ramu had no time to attend school and besides, he could not save money to do so. He used his daily wages to feed seven members of his family—his parents and his five younger siblings. His father had suffered a paralysis of his right hand and was jobless. He would blow up a lot of Ramu’s wages buying bottles of liquor.

How often Ramu would think of fleeing from his family. He would feel miserable. Yet the bonds of a close relationship he had shared with his mother prevented him from doing so. Ramu’s world continued in the doldrums for a few more months until a unique event changed his life.

It was a hot and humid day in July and Ramu was waiting with terrible anxiety. His forehead was perspiring as he awaited the first passenger of the day. Beherampur is a small town and it was unlikely that someone should like to go out on a terribly warm day as this. Now Ramu’s mother was a patient of tuberculosis and this day she had grown seriously ill. Ramu had taken her to the local doctor and the news that the doctor gave him struck his heart like a thunderbolt. Ramu’s mother’s condition was serious and it was very urgent that she should immediately be hospitalized as every passing moment could bring about her demise. But where was Ramu going to get the money from? The treatment that she would undergo would cost a thousand rupees! Frankly, Ramu had not seen that much money before.

For Ramu, every passing moment pierced his heart like a dagger since every wasted second could prove to be fateful for his beloved and seriously ailing mother. Waiting for his first passenger Ramu suddenly burst into an uncontrollable series of sobs when suddenly from behind a melodious voice sounded in Bengali, “ Dada, will you go to Amrapukur?”

Filled with much relief but still with pulsating veins Ramu nodded at the mistress of that harmonious voice. She was a young girl, about seventeen, very pretty and very rich. Ramu could make that out from the amount of jewellery that she had worn.

As Ramu pulled the rickshaw through a lonely, uninhabited countryside, the young girl suddenly gasped, “ Stop! Stop!”

Startled, Ramu turned back to see the young girl in a state of frenzy. She rolled her eyes, her hands were fixed to her forehead and her tongue was lolling out.

Petrified, Ramu stuck out his chapped hands belonging to the lower caste and stopped the girl from falling onto the ground. The woman had blanked out. Ramu was now in a completely confused state of mind. He stared temptingly at the lovely gold necklace and the beautiful gold bangles that she wore.

“Ah, God has sent this girl to me to save my mother,” thought Ramu.

Sticking out one of his cold, clammy and nervous hands he grabbed at the necklace.

Then suddenly the thought of his mother swam in his young mind. She had always taught him the path of honesty and diligence no matter how much tempting and demanding the situation may be.

Not giving it second thought, Ramu grabbed the girl’s limp arms, let go off her necklace and set her on the humble seat of his rickshaw and pulled the cycle furiously to the nearby
hospital.

Relieved that the girl was out of danger and happy that he had saved her life as she had a terrible attack of heat stroke, Ramu’s thoughts wafted towards his mother.

“How was she now?” Ramu mused, “ Would he be able to cure her?”

The hospital staff had already rung up the girl’s residence for everyone knew her house as she was the daughter of one of the wealthiest gentlemen of Beherampur.

As Ramu turned to leave the hospital ward, a middle aged man – his face pale with anxiety came storming in.

“Is my daughter alright?” he exclaimed.

Relieved that his only daughter was well on the path to recovery, the man turned his attention to Ramu and gave him a gentle pat upon his shoulders.

“This is for you, my son,” he smiled in relief, “ For saving the most valuable treasure I possess.” And taking out a thousand – rupee note from his shirt pocket he handed it over to Ramu.

Accepting the gift, mad with glee Ramu rushed home. As he entered his home an uncanny silence greeted him. Forlorn faces stared back at him. Ramu stared towards the bed upon which his mother lay. The doctor was sitting right next to her.

“Doctor!” he exclaimed , “ I have got the thousand rupees.”

The doctor smiled back weakly at him and simply nodding his head, said: “ It’s too late, son. If you had reached half an hour earlier we could have saved your mother.”

Ramu stood still, his legs wobbling. The whole world seemed to have come to an end for him as he stood aghast and in disbelief.

That very night , his mother came back to him in his dreams and said: “ Son, I am proud to have a worthy son like you. You have been the most valuable and precious gift that I could have ever possessed. You will have my blessings throughout your life.”

(Debayan 17 is a winner of a silver medal in a previous Shankar’s International Writing Competition)  

4-Jun-2006
 
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